Gimmick and/or single-setting horror movies aren’t uncommon. And when done right, they can be a supremely effective way of putting audiences in the shoes of characters trapped in pretty awful circumstances. Mandy Moore found herself trapped in a shark cage for 47 Meters Down while Open Water left two scuba divers bobbing on the ocean. Over a decade ago, Frozen (not the Disney one) stranded three skiers on a ski lift. Just a few weeks ago, Shudder original Glorious forced Ryan Kwanten to confront the apocalypse from a truck stop restroom. Now as summer comes to a close, Fall promises theme-park thrills from a simple premise – two young adventurers trapped at the top of a 2000-ft radio tower.
When a rock climbing expedition ends in her husband’s tragic death, Becky Connor isolates herself from family and friends. But when her best friend, Hunter, shows up on her doorstep to drag her back to life, Becky reluctantly agrees. What Hunter promises is an adventure that will force Becky to confront her fears – a climb to the top of a 2000-ft tall radio tower. Once at the tower’s peak, however, the girls find themselves trapped with no food, water, or cellphone signal.
Fall Mostly Wrings Maximum Thrills From Its Gimmick Premise
Sometimes the simplest premises are often the best for achieving maximum suspense. After all, we go on rollercoasters, skydive, or zipline because of the simple, visceral thrill these activities provide. And just like a theme park ride, Fall takes the simplest idea – being trapped 2000 feet from the ground – and looks to take audiences on a ride. Director Scott Mann and co-writer Jonathan Frank may stretch credulity as it seems pretty unlikely that adventurers would choose a radio tower in middle of nowhere to climb. Then again maybe it is something a thrill-seeking Instagram influencer might do. Regardless Fall doesn’t waste much time getting its protagonists climbing up a rusty ladder. From that point onward Mann faces the challenge of wringing out suspense from action limited to a tiny platform.
If Mann used digital effects to create a 2000-ft drop he deserves a lot of credit because nothing here looks cheap or fake.
By and large, Fall manages to exploit its single-setting to maximum effect. Whether it’s close-up shots of bolts holding the ladder beginning to strain or vultures suddenly swooping into the camera’s view or characters grasping for things just out of reach, Fall pushes you to the edge of your seat. Most people have a healthy fear of heights. If Mann used digital effects to create a 2000-ft drop he deserves a lot of credit because nothing here looks cheap or fake. On several occasions, you may feel like you’re looking over a very steep edge. To his credit, Mann even manages to sneak in a surprise that borrows a bit from 47 Meters Down, but still shakes up the narrative when it need it most.
Fall Stretches That Simple Premise Too Far To Maintain Consistent Tension
Unfortunately, ‘mostly wrings out thrills’ isn’t same as saying it’s a non-stop thrill-ride. There’s nearly two hours of movie here and, even with a prologue and a bit of character introductions, this leaves a lot of time up on that tiny platform. Despite his best efforts, Mann can’t maintain a consistent level of dread or tension. Not even the above-mentioned surprise can stop Fall from feeling stretched out. If Mann had whittled this down to 80 minutes or so, Fall would have been a much leaner thriller. In addition, the climax ultimately feels a bit anti-climatic as if Mann ran out of ideas.
There’s nearly two hours of movie here and, even with a prologue and a bit of character introductions, this leaves a lot of time up on that tiny platform.
In part, Fall suffers from a screenplay that substitutes genuine character and emotion for recycled melodrama. A tragedy under similar circumstances that forces the main character to once again face their fears has been done over and over. Even the characters themselves, including a tension that surfaces between them, feels ‘cut and paste’. Yet in spite of the screenplay’s limitations, both Grace Caroline Currey (Annabelle: Creation) and Virginia Gardner (Halloween) breathe life into their characters and elicit enough sympathy to elevate the thriller’s quieter moments. Nonetheless, a better screenplay without so many clichés as baggage would have better carried Fall across its bulky runtime.
Fall Mostly Succeeds in Taking Audiences On One Last Summer Ride
Cut out maybe about 15 or 20 minutes and Fall might feel like theme-park ride. As it stands, its nearly two-hour runtime coupled with a run-of-the-mill melodramatic backstory keep it from reaching perfect heights. Nonetheless, Fall is an often nail-biting thriller that makes innovative use of its single setting. Through filmmaking innovation, Mann somehow effectively puts you up 2000 feet in the air with his protagonists. And Currey and Gardner deliver strong performances that stretch beyond the limitations of the single setting and screenplay. While it’s not perfect Fall still makes for a riveting popcorn thriller.